Feeling 'uncomfortable': A response to Slutwalk DC's defense around holding a fundraiser at a 'gentlemen's club'

I could hardly believe my eyes when this was brought to my attention this morning. Slutwalk DC is holding an upcoming fundraiser at a ‘Gentlemen’s Club’. Sounds classy, right? I’m thinking suits, briefcases, scotch…Just a good old fashioned place for ‘gentlemen’ to go and feel like they can purchase women’s bodies. Hey, everybody needs to relax, right?

Experiencing and anticipating some push back, I assume, led the DC satellite to produce a statement defending their decision. Said statement, from my perspective, has only made things worse, as, in defensiveness, the author makes sweeping and untrue assumptions about a) feminism b) why a woman might feel ‘uncomfortable’ attending a fundraiser at a strip club and c) the actual reasons why women or feminists might object to this (hint: it’s not just because we’re prudes).

Admittedly, the statement is hard to get through, the writing and rationale is a little confusing, likely the response was written in haste (hey, I’ve been there), and trying to get to the ‘meat’ of their position is a little like wading through a swamp to get to an Olive Garden (i.e. not sure if it was worth it).

I’m beginning to feel a little like a broken record here, but seeing as this argument is being continually misrepresented and confused throughout these discussions (as well as, generally, in discussions around feminist perspectives on sex work), I would like to address said argument. When feminists build critiques of the sex industry (stripping, porn, prostitution, etc), it is not about ‘judging’ the women who work in the industry. In fact, feminists know, all too well, why a woman might ‘choose‘/need to find work of this nature. Namely because, hey guess what! People need to eat. And pay rent. And wear shoes and have heat and things like that.

Slutwalk DC states, right off the bat, that:

This is a non-judgmental movement that embraces all choices a woman wishes to make, while making a statement that her choices do NOT invite sexual violence. As any women’s activist should know, women who work in adult entertainment and more specifically, erotic dancers, are very often the victims of sexual assault. These women are very often to victims of Slut Shaming and Victim Blaming due to their profession.

This statement, to me, immediately implies that there are factions of the feminist movement (though, whether SlutwalkDC aligns themselves with the feminist movement is, at least, unclear and, at most, doubtful) which are ‘judgmental’.

The author goes on to say:

While I recognize that many people may hold a certain belief that these industries objectify and over-sexualize women, the problem should be with the system, and not with the women that engage in these profession.

And to that, I say ‘yes!’ But also, ‘wait, I feel confused’. Many ‘people’ (let’s assume we’re talking about feminists here…) do indeed believe that these industries objectify and exploit women. Said ‘people’ also believe that this is a problem with ‘the system’ (and hey, while we’re at it, let’s name that system ‘patriarchy’ and ‘capitalism’, two systems that word very well together in order to exploit and marginalize a large number of people in various ways). The ‘problem’ the author refers to, has little to do with the individual women who engage in these professions, aside from the fact that these women are, indeed, individual human beings and not objects…

On to problematic statement number two:

Feminism has taken a hard hit by the constant exclusivity of “feminists” which is clear in the statistic quoted by Kirsten Powers that “a 2008 Daily Beast poll found that just 20 percent of women call themselves “feminists,” and only 17 percent would want their daughters to use the label.”

Ring the ‘not true’ bell because we need some wake up calls. Feminism ‘has taken a hard hit’ because of the backlash. Because some, namely those who want to maintain power and privilege, as well as those who feel that they depend on dominant ideology for their survival and are afraid for what might happen were we to uproot it (perfectly reasonable, it’s a powerful system, can be very convincing, and is kind of a big bully), have worked very hard at painting feminism with the ‘prudish, man-hating, sex-hating, destroyers of all things fun and awesome’ brush. This ‘exclusivity’ the author speaks of is unclear. I’m not sure if they are referring to feminists’ excluding sexist men, sexism, or strip clubs from their un-fun parties or, if perhaps, they are referring to the 1st or 2nd wave of feminism, which did, indeed, exclude lower class women and women of colour from the movement. Either way, feminism, seems to me, to be an entirely different beast today as it works to address intersectionality and the ways in which various women experience various forms of oppression in various ways as a result of living in a racist, classist, sexist society. Feminism isn’t perfect, but arguing that feminists are exclusive and judgmental, without looking at, or acknowledging the mass attacks on feminism via the media and culture at large as ONE BIG REASON why people may not want to identify as feminist leaves a pretty big hole in your argument and paints an inaccurate picture of the situation.

And then we come to this:

The feminist movement has been lost in an ongoing civil war – women arguing with other women. For all of you that are outraged with the push back from fellow “feminists” regarding SlutWalks, I hope you understand that just as they disagree with our tactics and ideals, you are welcome to disagree with some other women’s choices, but do not abandon them for them. Feminism is supposed to be able equality, non judgement, and fairness. Feminists are supposed to stand up for their fellow woman and not disavow her for lifestyle choices that Feminists worked so hard to allow her to make. I have a hard time recognizing the idea that “Women should be able to do whatever they want! Just don’t make us look bad.”

*Big sigh*. Since, according to the author, ‘the feminist movement has been lost’, I guess we should all just turn around and go home. Remind me, again, why we are having all these conversations? OH RIGHT. BECAUSE PEOPLE KEEP TELLING LIES ABOUT FEMINISM. Oh, and also? Because women are being raped and assaulted and abused and then blamed. A pretty big problem for feminists. Dear author: What are, exactly, your ‘tactics and ideals’? To attack feminism and feminists, tell them what feminism and feminists are, in fact, SUPPOSED TO BE DOING, and then completely misunderstand and misrepresent just about everything feminists have argued over the past 50 years? This is not about ‘judging’ individual women. This (in this one circumstance) is about the fact that a bunch of dudes, paying money to objectify women, and that the women who are being objectified need to do this in order to make a living, makes women into sexual objects which exist for male pleasure and can be bought and sold. Like things. Not people. Feminists believe that, viewing women as actual whole human beings, IS ‘stand[ing] up for their fellow woman’.

And finally we get to ‘research’. Or lack there of.

Maybe some of you have not done your research, but one of the organizers of SlutWalk Toronto is an exotic model and burlesque dancer herself. Who are we to tell her that what she is doing is wrong? If it wasn’t for these women, we wouldn’t be marching on August 13th.

Well, ‘maybe some of you have not done your research’ (I would argue that, it is very clear who has ‘not done their research’ in this scenario), but no one cares whether or not one of the organizers of Slutwalk Toronto is an exotic model and burlesque dancer. No one has said she is doing something ‘wrong’. I mean, we could get into the larger context of said ‘choice’, but that’s not what we’re talking about right now. BUT WAIT. WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT? I’ve gotten so lost throughout this response, the made up arguments based on things that no one believes or ever said, that I can’t even remember what it is we are talking about. OH RIGHT. SlutwalkDC is having a fundraiser at a strip club. And the author of this response thinks this makes some people ‘uncomfortable’. Well paint me pissed off, because that kind of condescending, disrespectful, insulting, simplification will not go unnoticed. ‘Umcomfortable’ sounds pretty simple, like wearing too small tights or watching someone pick their nose on the bus. In this context, ‘uncomfortable’ means prudish. It means uptight, judgmental, man-hating, sex-hating, no-fun feminists. Not wanting to hang out in a strip club would make me feel ‘uncomfortable’, but to completely ignore and erase all the very valid and desperately important reasons why this might make me feel ‘uncomfortable’, makes me feel *EEKNODONTSAYIT* mad.

An image from Slutwalk DC's website. The message here being....er...women aren't objects??

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.